Sunday, March 14, 2010

Traditional Flower Viewing at Tsukigase

Well, I never did find my camera, so I ended up buying a new one. It wasn`t too bad; it cost a lot less than it would have in the U.S. and all the menus/instructions are in English, so it`s all right. And I got to return to tsukigase (moon river valley) again, so all the pictures of the plum blossoms I lost I got to retake!

So let me start there. Wednesday the 3rd of March some teachers and I left school at 2:00 for traditional hanami (flower viewing, or literally “flower see”). We drove way up into the mountains in Nara prefecture, about thirty minutes from our town. We rolled down the windows and boy, the smell! Pine mixed with fragrant flowers, so fresh and sweet. That`s what heaven smells like. We hiked all up and down the blossom trails. One of the teachers bought me plum ice cream and all along the way there were free samples of locally grown nuts, tea, plums, pickles, and many other tantalizing delicacies. We ended up at a really fancy, traditional Japanese restaurant at the top. It had the most gorgeous view of the river valley at sunset, but unfortunately that was one picture I wasn`t able to duplicate when I got my new camera, since my church family went during the early afternoon. But everything was perfect. At the restaurant we ate two different kinds of soup (duck and wild bore) and a delicious sweet beef stir fry, all with rice, cola and tea. The stir fry was so good I decided to try to make it later that week, and it was a great success! Here`s the recipe:

A pound any kind of meat
Quarter-Half pound mushrooms
10-15 sweet potatoes slices
Half pound any other kind of vegetables you want

Fry it in two tablespoons olive oil, just under half a cup of soy sauce, (and here`s the secret), two-three tablespoons of sugar! You let it simmer in that for as long as desired (20 minutes is good) and that`s all! Totally delicious.

I really enjoyed being with my colleagues; I know enough Japanese now to be able to understand jokes (especially puns) and make a few myself. A lot of them were teasing me about my recordings for the English test. I had to impersonate both a man and a woman and emphasize certain words, so it sounded really silly. “Actress, Grammy award winning!” Then I showed off my different accents and they were all roaring with laughter. “Comedian, Laura wa Comedian desu!” I`m actually awful at accents; if anyone in America laughed it would be out of pity. But the Japanese don`t know any difference, so might as well have fun with them.

One of the teachers who sat next to me got roaring drunk, but that was actually kind of funny because he kept asking me the names of things in English, and I would respond, and he would attempt to say them, and end up saying something else. One running joke between him and me is that he always says everything is “ichi ban,” number one. “Kore wa nihon no ichi ban tokolo des yo!” “This is the number one spot in Japan, for sure!” But he always says that, so I always reply, “But you said the last spot was ichi ban!” Or “the last food was best” or “the last person was the nicest.” But he always insists every time. So I call him “ichi ban man” and often ask him his latest ideas of what is “best.”

At the end I realized I had forgotten to take my wallet, so one of the teachers paid for me! How nice! Another teacher dropped me off back at the school a little early, around 6:45, so I had just enough time to ride my bike home for one of my adult students to pick me up at my house at 7:20 for class at the community center at 7:30. That was really fun. Since it was between Valentine`s Day and White Day (the day that Japanese men reciprocate their thanks to the women who gave them gifts on Valentine`s Day by giving them gifts in return), we did a lesson on love. The students presented about their first crush, then we did a “shopping for your Valentine” dialogue. I love my adult students. They actually study and try, but still have a good time. In comparison, I just get so frustrated with my kids at school sometimes! Why do they sit there and class and do nothing? This is their chance to learn English for free! It`s not like they even have to try hard, just participate! Ug.

For now, I`ll skip the rest of the week and get to March 14th so you can actually see some flower pictures! That`s when I went back to Tsukigase with my church family after church. Here we are, in front of one of the blooming trees:

They really are like family to me. Pastor Toshi (in front of his father`s wheel chair) and Pastor Kumi (beside him) are like my parents, always looking after me, their daughter Aiachan is like my little sister, Kae (who unfortunately couldn`t make it) is like my big sister, Yoshidasan (taking the picture) is like my grandfather, Kazumisan (not present) and her husband are like my aunt and uncle and their son (also not present) my cousin, Takatasan is another aunt, and the list goes on.

Fortunately, my Pilipino friend Karen and Chinese friend Li also got to come. Here`s a including everyone who could make it except pastor Toshi, who`s taking the picture:

Karen`s on the very left and Li is on the very right. Grandpa Yoshidasan is standing next to me. Isn`t it beautiful how the branches of the plum tree dip down, cascading with delicate flowers, like a lily-laden weeping willow, or a pink, rippling waterfall? I love it!

Here`s a better look at just the tree:

And here`s a close up of pink and white blossoms.

After climbing 3/4th of the way up the mountain, we paused at a little tea shop. As a way of saying thank you for the services I provide at the church, they bought me traditional Japanese tea! It was very delicious, especially the gelatin sweet covered in honey. Here`s me enjoying it next to Karen, with a view of the gorgeous river valley over my shoulder:

Here`s a darker pink tree at a distance:

And here`s me standing next to another:

Karen and me beside what I call the “bridal tree” because it looks like a veil! (By the way, Karen is getting married in 2012 back in the Philippines, and she invited me to come as one of her bride`s maids! I`m already excited!)

Everybody`s always so nice to me, buying me things, giving me a taste of their treats. I feel spoiled sometimes. I even indulged myself a little. I bought some mochi cakes from a little shop and shared them with Karen. They were sticky rice flower mixed with green tea and powdered sugar, stuffed with anko, or sweet red bean paste. And at the very bottom of the mountain there was a little shop selling plum trees, so you could take the joy home with you! I`m such a sucker for that. Here`s a picture of all the little trees for sale:

The store owner was so nice and helped me pick the perfect tree, my favorite color, and lowered the price way down for me, so I bought a little bonsai (miniature) purple plum tree. It`s sitting in my living room, just gorgeous! He said the flowers will come back every year for the rest of my life. I just hope I can sneak it…I mean find a legal way to transport it back to the U.S. If not, I`ll just leave it as a present for my successor.

Well, that`s all for flower viewing. Tomorrow I`ll post about the rest of the week and the St. Patrick`s Day parade/dancing in Ise!

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